A warmer climate is likely to result in fewer large waves along Australia’s central east coast, according to Bureau of Meteorology research that predicts a decline in the frequency of storms known as East Coast Lows.
However, the storms and large waves that do occur could potentially become stronger, and rising sea levels are likely to increase the impacts of these waves on coastal regions.Large wave events
Large waves are one of the defining features of the east coast. They can cause severe impacts on coastal communities, such as erosion and inundation, but are also important for recreational activities such as surfing.
In June 2007, a bulk coal ship called the Pasha Bulker ran aground on Nobbys Beach in Newcastle during an East Coast Low. The Insurance Council of Australia estimated damages at about A$1.5 billion from this single storm.
Our new research shows that East Coast Lows are the dominant cause of large waves in eastern Australia, based on measurements of wave height from ocean buoys at Coffs Harbour, Crowdy Head, Sydney, Port Kembla and Eden. These storms have more of an effect in this region than tropical cyclones, which typically occur from November to April, whereas large waves happen more often in winter along this part of the East Coast.Consistent predictions
Our group at the Centre for Australian Weather and Climate Research is the first to have produced highly consistent results across a range of climate models for projected changes to waves caused by storms in this region. We did it by looking at how ocean waves relate to conditions in the atmosphere at heights above about 5 km. At these heights, storms are typically larger than they are down at surface level. This means that the new method is well suited to the analysis of storms using global climate models, because these models can provide a good representation of the large-scale features of the Earth’s climate.
The 18 models used in our study clearly show that increasing greenhouse gas emissions is likely to cause East Coast Lows to become less frequent. About 40% fewer East Coast Lows are projected to occur towards the end of this century if greenhouse gas concentrations continue to increase. In contrast, if greenhouse gas concentrations are stabilised this century, then only about 25% fewer East Coast Lows are expected to occur.Impacts on coastal communities
While fewer large waves may be unwelcome news for some surfers, changes to these events will have a broad range of likely implications for coastal communities.
Future changes to the occurrence of East Coast Lows are also likely to have an impact on rainfall, and as a consequence, on water availability and flood risk in this region. These storms account for a significant proportion of the heavy rainfall events that are important for water availability along the central and southern eastern seaboard.
As rainfall is influenced by a wide range of different factors, with East Coast Lows being one of these factors, it is challenging to project future changes with a high degree of confidence in some cases. Uncertainty in future water availability remains a complex challenge for natural resource management.
However, this study shows that the influence climate change will have on East Coast Lows, and their impacts on coastal communities and ecosystems, is becoming clearer.
Andrew Dowdy does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.
Health care is a stressful and intrinsically risk-laden practice. Add to this the reality that all human beings are vulnerable to error and it’s inevitable that mistakes will be made. In 2012, there were 107 serious medical errors in Australian hospitals, ranging from surgery on the wrong patient or body part, and medication errors, to deaths or serious injuries associated with giving birth, and in-hospital suicides.
There’s no underestimating the effect of each of these mistakes – disability or death, and terrible loss for the families involved.
But system wide, there is some positive news. While there are annual variations in the number of serious errors, overall, serious adverse events decreased by 10% in the five years to 2012. Of the 53 million patient interactions nationwide each year the chance of a serious medical error occurring is incredibly low, at 0.000201%.
So, what have been the drivers of reform? And what progress is yet to be made in reducing medical errors?Decade of reform
In 2003, following mounting international concerns about the rate and impact of health-care mistakes that could have been prevented, the World Health Organisation (WHO) passed a resolution supporting a strategic global agenda for achieving patient safety.
Over the past decade, health-care services have implemented robust surveillance and reporting systems to ensure errors are captured, the contributing factors are identified and analysed, and processes are put in place to prevent them from happening again.
Patients from OECD countries can now expect health-care providers to use evidence-based tools to reduce the risk of accidents, through the use of surgical checklists, and risk assessments for falls and developing pressure sores. And increasingly, they can expect their hospitals to use computerised drug prescribing, medical records, and clinical decision aids and support programs at the bedside.
Australia has been at the forefront of these initiatives, with the establishment of the Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care in 2006 prompting a range of initiatives. Importantly, the commission established an “open disclosure” framework, under which patients and their families are told immediately when something has gone wrong. Hospital staff must also inform them of what’s being done both to fix the problem and prevent it happening again.
This framework is accompanied by a national charter informing patients of their rights and responsibilities.
It’s important that patients and their families are told immediately when something goes wrong. ChameleonsEye/Shutterstock
Simple tools, checklists and agreements have also made a big difference in reducing medical errors. When a patient is transferred from one care setting or context to another, health-care providers are encouraged to use tools to standardised approaches to clinical handover. And clinicians aim to agree, through consensus statements, on how they will recognise and respond to patients whose clinical condition is deteriorating.
To date, one of the commission’s most significant initiatives has been the development and publication in 2011 of ten national safety standards, which include strategies for patient identification and procedure matching (to reduce surgery being done on the wrong person or body part); preventing pressure injuries, falls and harm from falls; reducing the transmission of hospital-acquired infections; and improving medication safety.
The purpose of the standards is to provide a nationally consistent set of measures to improve the quality and safety of health-care provision and, ultimately, protect the public from harm. The standards must be met for Australian hospitals to achieve accreditation.Sometimes, accidents happen
Despite improvements in hospital safety, preventable harmful events still occur. Clinical work is often carried out in situations that are largely unpredictable, so it’s inevitable that mistakes will be made.
It’s widely accepted in health care that we can’t fix what we don’t know about. The linchpin to improving patient safety continues to be having a robust surveillance and reporting system in place. Without a safe reporting system, mistakes will be driven underground and systemic problems might never be fixed.
Best practice tells us hospital management should make careful and non-punitive inquiries into what went wrong and why “the system failed” (errors are rarely the fault of individuals acting alone). They should also use the findings to inform improvements in the system in the hope that similar errors will not be repeated.
In the drive to improve the safety of health care, there has been increasing recognition that when things go wrong it’s not only the patient or family who suffers. Between 10% and 43% of health care professionals are also left the “second victims” after an event.
Clinical work is often unpredictable, so it’s inevitable that mistakes will be made. VILevi/Shutterstock
Health-care providers who have experienced the sickening realisation that they have made a bad mistake experience guilt, shame, psychological distress, and emotional burnout. Their personal and professional relationships can also be disrupted. Some may be so affected by the aftermath of the event that they feel unable to continue practising and may leave their profession altogether.
Safe reporting and error management has seen the emergence of a number of effective second victim coping strategies. These include: accepting responsibility when things go wrong, discussing the event with colleagues, disclosing what went wrong to the patient and apologising, analysing and evaluating the error, changing or improving the practice, and advocating for cultural change in the profession and organisation.
It’s also important to acknowledge that while things can go horribly wrong, they can also go incredibly right. This is due in no small part to human ingenuity and the now widespread recognition that patient safety is everybody’s responsibility – including patients and their families.
Megan-Jane Johnstone has served as an invited Member, Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing, Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care (ACQSHC), National Patient Charter Reference Group to develop the Australian Charter of Healthcare Rights (2007-2008); is a member of a successful research collaboration, lead by Professor Ross Coppel, Monash University, which applied for and was selected to be a preferred provider for REOI (Requests for Expressions of Interest) regarding research and literature reviews for the ACQSHC (2013); and is a member of the Deakin University Centre for Quality and Patient Safety (QPS) Research External Advisory Committee, which includes a member who is employed by the ACQSHC.
A challenge for university researchers is to make the best use of any funding on their projects and anything that can save money should be welcomed.
University representatives are already asking the federal government not to make further cutbacks in funding in May’s budget so the chance of extra research money looks slim.
The technology allows engineers to rapidly produce a physical prototype of a design to determine its viability and detect product defects. This process saves time and money when developing the final product.
3D printers were expensive in the 1980s and 1990s but prices have dropped significantly – from more than US$100,000 to just a few hundred dollars – so they are now accessible to general consumers and universities.
A strong open-source movement also allows individual consumers and researchers to build their own 3D printers, reducing costs even further. Yet despite its ability to reduce the cost of industrial processes, its ability to reduce both the cost and time associated with academic research hasn’t been realised to a similar level. But this is starting to change.3D printing in the lab
One of the early adopters of using 3D printing to reduce research costs was Joshua M Pearce from Michigan Technology University. His research group is becoming well-known for designing open-source hardware using 3D printers and micro-controllers.
He also recently published a book on the subject, which outlines how researchers can build a open-source lab in order to save thousands of dollars on research costs.
His research group is currently developing one of the first open-source metal 3D printers. This will allow individuals and researchers to print functional metal parts on printers that will cost approximately A$2,000 to build (to put in perspective, commercial metal printers start at roughly half a million dollars).Saving time and money
He needed four customised brackets for some equipment but was told they would cost A$800 and take four to six weeks to manufacture. He was also told by his supervisor that they did not have the budget and he needed to find an alternative.
So he searched online for ways to create a customised bracket and found a video of a 3D printer, the first one he had seen or heard of. Without any 3D modelling experience, he downloaded some easy-to-use, free software called Sketchup to create his first 3D design.
From design to reality. Ben Robotham and Bernard Meade
He sent the plans via email to the University of Melbourne Digital Fabrication Facility, picked up the printed brackets the next day (free for staff and students) and they fit perfectly, saving him up to six weeks delay and A$3,200 (more than the cost of the 3D printer and material combined).
While 3D printing’s cost saving potential in research is high, there are some barriers in getting researchers to adopt the technology:
- make researchers aware of how the technology can save money (such as printing experiment apparatus in plastic instead of getting it machined in metal)
- educate as to when 3D printing technology is appropriate to their research objectives (should the researcher print the experimental apparatus in plastic, or does the experiment require metallic parts?)
- researchers require the skills to design and print their research products, or access to people who can.
In an attempt to address these barriers, the University of Melbourne’s ITS Research and School of Engineering departments collaborated to help 24 students from various backgrounds become “digital blacksmiths”.
They were taught how to conceptualise ideas, how to use open-source computer-aided design (CAD) software and how to 3D print structurally sound objects.
Students learning how to use CAD software to design models for 3D printing. Paul Mignone
On the final day, they were given a business accelerator design challenge (Co-sponsored by the Melbourne Accelerator Program) and asked to develop and 3D print a business product or service, which was then pitched to a panel of professionals in the start-up sector.
Ideas ranged from 3D printing bicycle parts to custom jewellery, powerboards and spectacle frames designed fit to your face based on Xbox Kinect scans.
By the end of the course, these research students (now digital blacksmiths) could see the benefit of being able to create their own cheaper experimental equipment.The feedback
Robbie Fordyce, a PhD student and researcher in the School of Culture and Communication, said the potential to reduce costs for reproduction was immense:
Research projects based around rare or unique items – such as within archaeological or paleontological research – are bound to see substantial benefits, where their research objects are literally priceless.
The ability to quickly mock up new spaces and installations with 3D printed objects offers great savings in time, money and effort. It allows you to see and feel how everything fits together before its too late.
Tim Lovell, a medical research officer at the Florey Neuroscience Institute, said he often needs to source customised equipment in his research:
Normally, the time and cost necessary to engage a large biomedical company, prevents this. With 3D printing, I was able to team up with a mechanical engineer and manufacture a custom piece that I am now using to better visualise and understand the mechanistic effects of the drug.
This “digital blacksmith” project was the first of its kind in the world but it has shown us the potential is there to teach other researchers to use 3D printers for their benefit – which can only be a good thing in a challenging economic climate.
The authors do not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article. They also have no relevant affiliations.
Whether an athlete is competing at the Olympics or Paralympics, anxiety management is one of the most common psychological issues experienced.
Anxiety is an unpleasant emotion with distinctive features. If uncontrolled, it can result in muscle tightness (and therefore a potential change in technique and/or efficiency), reduced focus, and the onset of worry and self-doubt. Each of these symptoms has the potential to destroy an athlete’s confidence and performance.
Anxiety is one of a range of psychological factors that, if identified and addressed, can make the difference between an athlete watching the final from the stands, or him or her actually contesting the event.
For these reasons, it is important to address this issue if present, in order to optimise athlete performance.
Pressure can come from unlikely sources. Athletes may think themselves anxious (“What if I fail on national TV?”), have other things occurring in their lives that are influencing their psychological state (such as relationship issues or job-related stress), or may be responding to real or perceived pressure from family members, coaches, teammates and/or the media.
Paralympic and Olympic winter sport athletes have been found to use very similar coping strategies when faced with stressful situations. In saying this, how each athlete achieves his or her own sense of readiness both leading up to and on competition day varies with each person.
An important role of a sport psychologist when travelling with a team to a high-profile sporting event is to assist athletes should anxiety arise. The psychologist might help athletes to get a clear picture of their perceived pressures, and work with them to put in place some coping strategies that they can use to effectively deal with such influences.
Such strategies may include assisting the athletes to establish as much of a daily routine as they can as early as possible. This might include arranging the team schedule so that the athletes train, eat, and sleep at essentially the same times each day. This can help them to settle in to their new environment, to block out distractions and to refocus their attention on their preparation.
As the event draws closer, athletes’ anxiety can increase. This can sometimes see them start to shift their goals and to lose focus on what they need to do to perform at their best. Taking the time to reaffirm athletes’ short term goals, particularly those that they have direct control over (such as their race plan, what they eat, their hydration, their recovery plan), can be of benefit.
Encouraging them to trust in the goals they have set, and to review all the positives of these goals (“I have had an ideal preparation”), can help to combat any self-doubt (“Have I prepared well enough?”) that might have started to creep in since arriving at the Village.
Centering is another simple yet effective technique that athletes might be taught to help control both the physical and mental symptoms of anxiety. The process of centering can help athletes to stay focused, control stress, to get to sleep, and avoid distractions, among other things.
Many athletes also use it as part of their pre-competition routines to help them to mentally prepare for a race or match, to help them to refocus following an error, or to help them to relax following a high-intensity training session. Based on abdominal breathing and mindful attentional focus, centering is a technique that is easy and quick to teach, and one which can help athletes to feel more in control, as well as revitalised and refreshed.
The best strategy, however, to assist athletes to prepare for a Paralympic campaign is one that cannot be bought or trained. The number of experienced athletes in the team, such as veteran skier Cameron Rahles-Rahbula, who have been, seen and achieved at a number of Paralympic games, is priceless.
Such individuals may provide rookie Paralympians, such as the young Ben Tudhope, with their knowledge and their reassurance. But the most valuable thing that an experienced practitioner such as Rahles-Rahbula can offer the team is his mere presence.
This article was co-authored with Caron Jander, a consultant occupational physician affiliated with the Australian Paralympic Swim Team.
Related reading: Games on: preparing body and mind for the Winter Paralympics
Lisa Martin is affiliated with Swimming Australia and is the psychologist who travels with the Australian Paralympic Swim Team. This article was co-authored with Caron Jander, a consultant occupational physician affiliated with the Australian Paralympic Swim Team.
With technology changing the landscape of higher education, The Conversation this week is running a series “Re-imagining the Campus” on the future of campus learning. Here, Jason Lodge ponders the future of the campus in an age of online learning.
Much hype and discussion has surrounded the evolution of online higher education over the last few years. Technology has now reached a point where it is conceivable that an education experience on the internet can be comparable to one on a university campus. However, just because it is conceivable does not necessarily make it so.
The learning that occurs differs markedly across disciplines and domains of knowledge. For example, it is relatively easy to comprehend how basic level accounting could be effectively learnt in a virtual environment.
It is not so simple when considering advanced surgical techniques. It would be a brave soul who would trust a surgeon trained using wikis, instructional videos and virtual classrooms.
While these might be extreme examples, there is undoubtedly a large market for flexible delivery of university education, and many universities now offer online degree programs. This is true even for the many institutions not traditionally associated with “distance learning”.Implications for learning
The growth in the online delivery of programs raises several questions when considering the implications for learning. The first of these is about the quality of these programs compared to the programs offered on campus.
While arguments about quality often get sidetracked about the relative benefits or shortcomings of particular technologies for delivering an educational experience online, the real issue is educational design.
In general, a quality educational experience is not limited to a particular time and space. The trick is to design the best possible learning experience using the tools available, whether they are virtual or physical. The foundation for this is provided by the evidence of effective online and in-class teaching techniques.
Attempting to compare or equate one with the other or to “just add technology” to a course designed to be delivered on campus makes no sense. The best ways to engage students in a classroom do not neatly translate to the virtual world and vice versa.
Each delivery mode requires careful consideration of the possibilities provided by it alone, not in terms of how it simulates the other.Coming to campus
The second question is then about the value of coming to campus. If a quality learning experience can be delivered online, why would students make the effort and take the time to travel to campus at all?
In the same way that the online experience provides flexibility and a learning environment that can fit with students' busy lives, coming to campus provides real but different advantages.
The issue with the delivery of on-campus programs is that universities are just coming to terms with what the internet means for engaging students in learning in classrooms. This has come about because of the increased competition created by the proliferation of flexible learning options and the increased availability of information online. If students are going to come to campus, their time is not best spent having someone talk at them for hours on end.
The inefficiencies of the traditional transmission model of education are most obvious when considering the significant drop in lecture attendance observed by many lecturers. The “flipped classroom” approach, where students engage with content in their own time and use class time for activity-based learning, has emerged as a response to falling lecture attendance.
This is an example of the ways in which educational design can be used to enhance the on-campus experience.
Coming to campus provides real but different advantages for students. AAP/Paul MillerBenefits of a campus experience
While “flipping” classes is a start, the tangible benefits of being on campus continue to be what they have always been in a number of ways. Coming to campus provides an opportunity to be immersed in an intellectual culture. It allows exposure to legitimate expertise in a disciplinary area and the ability to test out new knowledge with peers.
With students having increasingly busy lives, it is not always possible for them to come to campus or have the kind of intellectual life that was traditionally associated with university campuses. That is the reality of the modern university student but is only just becoming the reality of the modern university campus.
Virtual communities can provide an alternative to the on-campus experience but, as yet, there is little evidence to suggest that virtual engagement with peers and with content matter experts can provide the same benefits as being immersed in the intellectual culture on campus.
It is folly to even attempt to make the comparison because virtual campuses provide different opportunities for students. Regardless, there is also the issue of exactly how much exposure undergraduate students in particular had with their lecturers.
The challenge for universities is to come to terms with this new reality. Online and on-campus modes of study are not equal and should never be considered so. Each has its benefits; each has its drawbacks.
Good educational design and good policy recognises the unique potential of each delivery mode and allows teachers and education designers to take maximum advantage of the benefits of each. The best possible learning experiences will not occur so long as we try to make quality online and on-campus learning look and feel the same. They don’t, and it is unlikely they ever will.
Read other articles in this series here.
Jason Lodge is affiliated with Griffith University and Queensland University of Technology. He teaches subjects/units/courses both on-campus and online.
The Conversation is running a series, Class in Australia, to identify, illuminate and debate its many manifestations. Here, Anastasia Powell considers the role of class in the complex of contributing factors to violence against women.
Violence against women remains a significant issue globally and in Australian society. One in three women in Australia experience physical violence and almost one in five experience sexual violence in their lifetime. While victims of violence come from all walks of life, some women are disproportionately vulnerable.
For instance, younger women (18 to 24 years) have been found to be at greater risk of both physical and sexual violence than women in older age groups.
Women with disabilities are particularly vulnerable to violence and abuse. This is especially so when the abuser is also a carer and can exercise control over the woman’s daily needs.
Much research has demonstrated that women from Indigenous backgrounds face a much higher risk of violence. They suffer more severe forms of abuse, including disproportionately high rates of homicide. They also face culturally specific barriers to seeking support.
It is unclear whether women from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds experience greater risk of violence. Once violence has occurred, cultural and language barriers can make it more difficult to find assistance.The problem that goes unnamed
The factor that best predicts whether a person might be a perpetrator or victim of violence is gender. National statistics confirm the overall gendered nature of violence.
Men who experience violence are most likely to be assaulted by a male stranger in public space. Women are most often assaulted by a current or former male partner, acquaintance or family member in the home.
But what about class? It has become almost taboo to name class and its relationship with violence against women.
This is partly because as a society we have only recently begun to place responsibility for violence where it belongs. It lies with the (mostly male) perpetrators and the choices they make to use violence against the people around them. To talk about factors that make some men more likely to use violence, or some women more vulnerable to victimisation, risks lessening that responsibility.
It is perhaps more comfortable to talk about risk factors that allow us to explain why violence occurs among particular communities or “types” of people than to admit the widespread and systemic nature of the problem. Violence cuts across economic factors. Victims and perpetrators are found at every income level.The complex effects of inequality
Yet socioeconomic inequality does intersect with violence against women in a number of ways.
It is clear, for example, that women with fewer financial resources face significant barriers to finding support and safe accommodation should they leave a violent relationship. Partner violence against women is a leading cause of women’s (and children’s) homelessness.
Women who experience domestic violence may also experience disruptions to their capacity to work. Limitations on workforce participation are sometimes a feature of abuse. This further limits their resources and potential sources of outside assistance.
Class does not appear, however, to be strongly related to women’s likelihood of becoming a victim of men’s violence. Australian data from the International Violence Against Women Survey, for example, indicated that levels of education were little different between women who had experienced physical or sexual violence and those who had not. The survey also found that victimisation differed little between working and non-working women, or with household income.
Where studies have found an association between class indicators and violence against women, the connections appear to be complex. For example, review studies tend to show weak to moderate associations between men’s perpetration of intimate partner violence and their education levels, labour force participation and income. The strongest predictors include: having attitudes condoning violence, rigid gender-role ideology, hostility, having a history of violence and drug/alcohol abuse.
Other research suggests that men’s use of violence is linked to demonstrations of masculinity. This differs with class resources, such that men with fewer conventional markers of status (such as education and employment) may be more likely to use violence as a marker of power and control.
Some studies have found that communities with greater socio-economic disadvantage (such as low educational attainment and low labour force participation) are more at risk of violence including intimate partner violence.
It is difficult to unpack how much of that risk is due to an individual’s class situation, or the combination of disadvantage in communities. Indeed, some research has suggested that strong predictors of violence include community cohesiveness, social supports and services. As formal and informal supports tend to be deficient in disadvantaged neighbourhoods, prevention efforts should focus on such supports.Gender, culture and class
Preventing violence against women has been an Australian policy priority in recent years. Much attention has been devoted to how we can change the structures and culture of gender inequality, which underpins the violence.
Yet if we are serious about preventing men’s violence against women, we must consider the interactions of gender, culture and class. Socioeconomic disadvantage in communities and gender inequality (which includes women’s socioeconomic disadvantage) clearly are significant factors. Most importantly, these are factors that we as a society can take action to change.
The association between class and violence against women is not a simple one of cause and effect. But denying its interaction with gender inequality in shaping the dynamics and impacts of violence will only prevent us from developing effective solutions.
See the other articles in the series Class in Australia here.
Anastasia Powell receives funding from the Australian Research Council (ARC) and the Victorian Health Promotion Foundation (VicHealth).
The two out of three rule may be outdated, but maybe not in the black and white way Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull claims. AAP/Daniel Munoz
Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull is sending out strong signals that the government is sympathetic to liberalising the cross-media rules, which now say an owner can have only two of TV, radio and print in the one market.
Turnbull recently met with media executives and he indicated again on Sunday, in an interview with Sky, that he believes there is a persuasive case for change.
“The view is put to me by many people in the industry and I think it’s a view that is very cogent … why in an age where the internet has become the super platform, the hyper platform to which everyone has access … and it is increasingly providing more and more and more and more avenues for competition in the media, why do we need to have platform-specific ownership rules dealing with newspapers and radio and television?
“Because this is an increasingly smaller part of the media landscape. And so, the argument goes [on] to say, look, diversity is no longer an issue, competition is greater than it has ever been - and that’s undoubtedly true. Why not just leave … media mergers and ownership issues to the ACCC, to the standard monopoly rules that apply?”
Tony Abbott flagged his thinking when asked about Turnbull’s comments. “We have a deregulationist instinct,” he said.
It can be argued that in the internet age the two out of three rule has become outdated, but not necessarily because the competitive situation has improved in the comprehensive, black and white way Turnbull claims.
Yes, there have been many new players (including The Conversation website). But the old players retain the core power when it comes to setting the daily news agenda.
One reason is that they are the ones with the boots on the ground. They have the manpower to dig out the news, while many of the new sites have limited or no such capacity (or interest) - they are mostly bigger on opinion and analysis than gathering primary data.
Of course this is an evolving situation. Guardian Australia, for example, has had some strong news-breaking stories on the Manus incidents and related matters and it had, in conjunction with the ABC, the Snowden-inspired revelations about Australian spying on Indonesia. Mail Online has big ambitions.
But regardless of exceptions, the general point remains true – and is likely to do so for some time. As Sean Kelly, who worked as press secretary to both Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard, writes in the latest issue of The Monthly, “Make no mistake, whatever the hype about ‘new media’, the nightly news reports still reign supreme in politics.”
ABC managing director Mark Scott noted the paradox in an interview with the The Saturday Paper at the weekend: “There are more voices, more websites, more commentary, and you’d argue that that leads to a dilution of the impact of traditional mainstream media.
“But so much of that new media is feeding off a narrow news agenda that is still set by a handful of media outlets.
“Perversely, even though they are challenged in terms of their profitability, in terms of their power and impact, they remain very strong. News Corporation has never been more powerful in Australia in a policy sense and an agenda-setting sense.”
Whether new players eventually alter that situation will depend on whether they can make enough money to become fully fledged news gatherers (assuming they want to) and that remains a question mark. Meanwhile we’ve seen rationalisation and increasing concentration of news coverage and opinion in the mainstream media.
Pressure for changing the rules is not so much because of things dramatically altering with the advent of new players, as about what’s happened to the old players.
The traditional commercial media face more difficult financial circumstances, including fragmented advertising markets because of the internet and the decline of newspaper circulations. This is making them desperate for the rules to be freed up.
Matthew Ricketson, professor of journalism at the University of Canberra, applying the “who benefits?” test, observes that it is established players, not the newbies, who are pushing for change.
One factor undermining the rules is that what is “print media” is now fluid. The ABC doesn’t have a print paper, but its online news and commentary could be said to amount to a virtual newspaper. In that sense, it has a three out of three presence in the markets, while the commercial media are limited to two out of three.
If one thinks there should be a level playing field, this does chalk up a point for liberalising the rules governing the commercials (but not for constraining the ABC).
If the two out of three rule is to be changed, let’s just be upfront and acknowledge a couple of key points. Removing it would be primarily driven by the financial needs of the traditional commercial media, not by what’s happened so far with new players, and would lead to more concentration in that “old” media.
Listen to the new Politics with Michelle Grattan podcast with Race Discrimination Commissioner Tim Soutphommasane here.
Michelle Grattan does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.
In July 1846, the American writer Henry David Thoreau went to prison for refusing to pay his poll tax. He couldn’t abide the thought that his money would be used, however indirectly, to perpetuate the Mexican-American war and the institution of slavery. “Under a government which imprisons any unjustly, the true place for a just man is also a prison,” Thoreau reasoned, and so that’s where he was.
Like many things in Thoreau’s life, his stint in jail was somewhat less impressive than he made it sound. He’d simply run into the tax collector by chance, who demanded six years' worth of unpaid taxes. Thoreau refused, spent one night in a freshly-whitewashed cell, drank a pint of hot chocolate for breakfast, and was released against his will later that day when someone (probably his aunt) paid the tax for him.
Nothing changed. Both the war and slavery went on, unperturbed. The most significant outcome was Thoreau’s deeply influential essay Civil Disobedience, an ongoing source of inspiration to anti-statist activists from the anarchist left to the libertarian right.
Four decades later, the people of Lough Mask in Ireland began a campaign of ostracisation against Lord Erne’s local land agent – a certain Captain Charles Boycott. The British ultimately used troops to guard the Orangemen brought down to harvest Erne’s crops (at 20 times the cost of what the crops were worth). But in the process the English language acquired a useful new verb.
But is the practice of boycotting as useful as the word? Are withdrawals of support such as Thoreau’s morally valuable acts of defiance or mere self-indulgent theatre?
The news that the Sydney Biennale has severed all links with Transfield Holdings, including accepting the resignation of its chairman Luca Belgiorno-Nettis (who remains Transfield’s director), throws all these issues into relief.
Like Transfield itself, the Biennale was founded by Luca Belgiorno-Nettis’ father Franco (who had earlier established the Transfield Art Prize). No-one disputes, therefore, that Transfield has been a deeply valuable benefactor of the arts. As recently as late February, the Biennale board was insisting it could not survive without Transfield.
But Transfield’s subsidiary, Transfield Services, operates the Australian government’s immigration detention facility in Nauru, and has just signed a A$1.22 billion contract to run the Manus Island facility in PNG as well. Protests against Transfield’s involvement with the Biennale had been gathering steam for weeks. Nine artists had withdrawn from the event altogether.
In the statement announcing his resignation, Belgiorno-Nettis complained:
There would appear to be little room for sensible dialogue, let alone deliberation. Yesterday I learnt that some international government agencies are beginning to question the decision of the Biennale’s board to stand by Transfield.
Biennale staff have been verbally abused with taunts of “blood on your hands”. I have been personally vilified with insults, which I regard as naïve and offensive. This situation is entirely unfair – especially when directed towards our dedicated Biennale team who give so much of themselves.
As the reference to Biennale staff reminds us, ethical decisions are never made in a vacuum. We moral philosophers like our thought-experiments artificially clean and simple: strip out all the messy, extraneous stuff and display the moral problem in its clarity and purity. Real-life moral dilemmas aren’t like that: the truth, as Wilde quipped, is rarely pure and never simple. It would be silly to ignore the fact there are livelihoods and careers involved here, and real costs to each if the event folds.
Villains are rarely as pure as we’d like them to be either. Writing on The Conversation, Joanna Mendelssohn notes that Luca Belgiorno-Nettis is:
by any measure a major patron of the arts on a personal level and one of the great subtle thinkers in modern Australia.
And yet, he profits from what can only be called systematic cruelty.
As an act of protest, the decision to boycott an arts festival may seem decidedly sub-Thoreavian. There are certainly real costs involved to the protesters, but no-one’s going to prison. Moreover, it’s no doubt impossible for even the most well-meaning boycotter to achieve complete disentanglement here either.
Other sources of funding are also likely to be ethically tainted too – is taking part in the Sydney Festival, which has a casino as its principal sponsor, an endorsement of the gambling industry, for instance?
Presumably the local artists who threatened to boycott the Biennale still pay their taxes too. We’re still paying for Manus whoever gets the contract. (Even Thoreau continued to pay the Highway Tax, because “I am as desirous of being a good neighbor as I am of being a bad subject.”)
And of course, none of this will move the needle one bit on asylum seeker detention policy, any more than Thoreau’s theatrics stopped the war against Mexico.
His belief that even a minority “is irresistible when it clogs by its whole weight” sounds wildly optimistic, then as now. Australia seems determined to punish asylum seekers for the unforgivable crime of disturbing our three-big-tellies-and-two-cars-in-the-driveway complacency.
As Waleed Aly put it in a grimly eloquent piece recently, “The political truth is that there is almost nothing any government could do that the electorate would deem too brutal” when it comes to detainees. A few artists pulling out of a festival is unlikely to get much traction in the suburbs of Western Sydney (which, as we learned during the last election campaign, is apparently the entirety of Australia).
And yet, a group of individuals stood up, at some cost to themselves, to withdraw their implicit support of a company that makes money from our brutalisation of the most vulnerable. And they won.
The board’s statement suggest it’s reacting to pressure rather than acting from genuine ethical concern, and Belgiorno-Nettis’ comments aren’t exactly a study in contrition. When the sun came up Saturday he was still director of Transfield Holdings, and Transfield Services was still running detention camps for profit.
But even so, the Biennale board has chosen a course of action that, on its own admission, puts its survival in doubt. I’ve said here before that we need more turkeys prepared to vote for Christmas. Perhaps we’ve found some. Perhaps.
Whatever the complexities, and however limited the impact, there was, at least, a moment, here in 2014, where the idea that misery outweighs money won some sort of victory.
It won’t change much. It won’t change anything at all for those suffering on Manus and Nauru right now. Some will call it merely symbolic, an empty gesture. But gestures matter. Symbols matter.
Thoreau died of TB at the age of 44, too soon to see the Emancipation Proclamation – by just eight months. History can be quicker than you think.
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Artists' victory over Transfield misses the bigger picture
Patrick Stokes does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.
The Oscars aftermath has begun to die down for another year, and stars are perhaps now starting to get over their hangovers. The racial diversity of this year’s awards has been widely championed, but we seem to have forgotten a little about the niggling question of gender.
Another year, another Oscar line-up and no woman nominated for Best Director. The Academy may have plumped for a female host this time (Ellen De Generes), the female-led spectacular Gravity may have won a host of awards, and the Best Animated Feature may have been the female-codirected Frozen, but the directorial category is an all-male show.
Looking back over the years, that’s overwhelmingly been the case. It’s a shock to find that even now only four women have ever been nominated for the Best Director award during its 85 year history: Lina Wertmuller in 1976, Jane Campion in 1993, Sofia Coppola in 2003 and Kathryn Bigelow in 2009, the latter becoming the first and so far the only woman director to win the award. That may have been excusable back in the days when there was a sole female member of the Directors Guild of America (first Dorothy Arzner then Ida Lupino) but that situation is no longer the case.
While women are certainly still in the minority as directors and a long way from gaining gender parity, they have made significant gains over recent decades that have not been matched with equivalent award success. It’s simply not true that the 2014 Academy Awards are merely reflecting the absence of any exciting female filmmaking talent out there. Quite the reverse.
One of the shock omissions from the Foreign Language Film category this year was Haifaa Al-Mansour’s bittersweet and touching tale of Saudi Arabian girlhood Wadjda, a film whose accomplishment is all the more remarkable when one learns that Al-Mansour had to direct it clandestinely from inside a van.
And why was there no nod for Kelly Marcel in the screenwriting category for her sparkling script for Saving Mr Banks? Why no inclusion of Mira Nair or Sofia Coppola or Lynn Shelton or Nicole Holofcener or Kimberly Peirce or Kasi Lemmons? To paraphrase another Oscar, Mr Wilde, to neglect one female director may be a misfortune, but to neglect eight or nine looks like carelessness.
It doesn’t give you great confidence in the gender politics of the Oscars when you read that an offer of free vaginal rejuvenation surgery is one of the “treats” in the ceremony’s goodie bag.
Stepping aside from the US and the admittedly artificial arena of the Oscars, does the picture seem any brighter for women directors in Britain? Perhaps. There’s certainly no lack of directorial talent. Andrea Arnold, herself an Oscar winner for her short film Wasp (2003), followed her contemporary dramas Red Road (2006) and Fish Tank (2009) with a uniquely brutal and bruising take on Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights in 2011.
Amma Asante has taken a similar path to Arnold, albeit over a more elongated timescale, finally following up her social realist debut A Way of Life (2004) with a period drama, Belle (2013). Both Clio Barnard and Carol Morley are transplanting their innovative approaches to documentary into their fictional feature debuts, 2013’s The Selfish Giant and The Falling, due out later this year. Meanwhile Joanna Hogg is emerging as a kind of British equivalent of Eric Rohmer, chronicling the foibles of the upper middle classes in Unrelated (2007), Archipelago (2010) and her forthcoming Exhibition (2013).
And, as has been noted in a recent BFI report, it’s not the case that British women filmmakers are confined to an art-house or avant-garde ghetto in terms of the kind of projects they work on. Some of the biggest British hits of recent years have been from female directors, among them Mamma Mia!: The Movie (2008) and The Iron Lady (2011), directed by Phyllida Lloyd, the Nativity comedies written and directed by Debbie Isitt, and the StreetDance films co-directed by Dania Pasquini.
In many respects, the position of women directors in the British film industry has never been healthier. But the long gap between Amma Asante’s first and second film and the problems encountered by Lynne Ramsay, the acclaimed director of We Need to Talk about Kevin (2011), in being bumped first from The Lovely Bones and then from Jane Got a Gun point to a deeper possible malaise facing the female filmmaker.
If making a debut film is hard, then sustaining a career seems even harder. It’s very important to celebrate the advance of the woman director in contemporary cinema and the success of individual films authored by women. However, it’s equally crucial to ensure that funding structures, festival and critical acclaim, and widespread distribution of a range of women’s films all play a role in supporting and sustaining this exciting new development towards a less gender-biased cinema.
Melanie Williams does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.
The Biennale of Sydney, which begins on March 21, has announced it will sever ties with its founding partner Transfield, following weeks of pressure from artists angered by the company’s links to Australia’s offshore detention centres.
Nine Australian and international artists, including Olafur Olafsson, had pulled out from the Biennale in protest at the event’s sponsorship deal with Transfield Holdings. The company has a stake in Transfield Services, which was recently granted a contract last week to operate a detention centre on Manus Island.
How the event will be funded going forward is now unclear.
In its statement, the Biennale board said:
We have listened to the artists who are the heart of the Biennale and have decided to end our partnership with Transfield effective immediately.
The original Transfield, under its founder Franco Belgiorno-Nettis, initiated the Biennale in 1973. The first Biennale was at the Sydney Opera House as a part of the opening ceremonies. It was opened by Prime Minister Gough Whitlam who had not been invited to the Opera House opening by the Queen (NSW had a Liberal government, enough said).
It is fair to say that Franco Belgiorno-Nettis was able to leverage his patronage of the Biennale and other cultural activities to foster informal connections to the most powerful people in the country. Transfield was then a construction company, pure and simple (it was one of the joint venturers to build the Sydney Harbour Tunnel) .
Connections are, after all, one of the reasons for arts patronage. The subtle patrons use their connections well. The great value of visual arts events is that it is easy to have conversations while looking at art – opera and theatre tend to demand silence except at interval. This is different from crude acts of sponsorship such as those by large mining or oil companies which use the arts to polish their corporate image.
Art family the Belgiorno-Nettis (L-R:) Guido, Luca and Amina Belgiorno-Nettis at the Art Gallery of NSW for the announcement of their A$4 million donation to the gallery in Sydney, in 2007. Tracey Nearmy/AAP Image
Time has moved on. Franco died eight years ago. Transfield is now a very large and complex series of companies. Luca Belgiorno-Nettis is a director of Transfield Holdings. Transfield Services, the company that is now operating some of Australia’s detention camps, is a separate subsidiary.
Luca Belgiorno-Nettis is not a part of Transfield Services. He is by any measure a major patron of the arts on a personal level and one of the great subtle thinkers in modern Australia. He is behind the newDemocracy Foundation, which aims to create a climate of intelligent debate and decision-making in this country.
In what can only be described as one of life’s little ironies “intelligent debate” has not been one of the characteristics of the current controversy.
As well as Transfield, the major supporter of the Biennale of Sydney is the Australia Council. While it participated in the 1973 exhibition, its significant financial support dates from the second Biennale in 1976 (for some years Sydney had the only Biennale in the world that ran once every three years). The Australia Council develops its policies at arms length from government but it remains wholly funded by the Australian Government.
In a very real sense, artists receiving Australia Council money are taking government money. So from my perspective it is quite reasonable for non-Australian artists to be so appalled by the acts of both the Australian government and their contractors that they remove themselves from the Biennale. It is reasonable to assume they would not know that our government runs concentration camps in our name, and has done so for many years.
However their protest will be somewhat hypocritical if they renew their connection with the Biennale now that Transfield has left. This is especially as Luca’s brother, Guido Belgiorno-Nettis, also a director of Transfield Holdings, is the President of the Trustees of the Art Gallery of New South Wales, the principal venue for the Biennale.
Australian artists are in a different category. Australia has been imprisoning refugees since 1992, shortly after the first Iraq War. In 2001 the Tampa election made hostility to those fleeing conflict official policy.
As an aside, it’s worth remembering also that Santos and ARCO became major sponsors of state government art galleries in the late 1980s and early 1990s, just as mega-exploration was taking off. In the catalogue of Balance 1990, Queensland Art Gallery’s seminal exhibition of Aboriginal art, ARCO Coal Australia Inc. is “thanked for its substantial financial support which enabled works to be purchased directly from artists during the tour to remote areas”. Whenever those now iconic works of art are reproducedor are on view, ARCO’s support is honoured.
The last election confirmed that both major political parties have lost their moral compass. The current mood by people of good will is despair.
It would be good to see artists in the Biennale use their position to foster a conversation on what is happening in Australia now. It is however silly and infantile to pick on one holding company of one of the camp operators while ignoring the central role of the Australian government which is directing the whole disaster.
I would have thought the intelligent response for local artists would be to make works that reflect the dilemma of people living in a country once thought of as a utopia but is now transforming itself into a dystopia. Take their money and use it to do good.
One of the big issues that is not being discussed here is that our government is effectively outsourcing many of the operations that have traditionally been a part of the core business of governing. It is fairly clear, from the amounts of money being thrown around, that they aren’t doing this as a cost-saving activity.
Rather it is clear that by outsourcing the more distasteful aspects of government they are setting up private companies as future scapegoats, and in doing so hoping to avoid the consequences of their own decisions.
I’d also like to emphasise that as well as being committed to maintaining their father’s initiative in giving Australia a place in the contemporary art scene, the next generation of the Belgiorno-Nettis family have a personal passionate involvement in the arts. Luca’s wife, Anita, was the executive producer for the film The Black Balloon (2008), Elissa Down’s film about autism and teenage love. Look closely at the opening scene.
A middled aged couple are walking their dog, and look at the family moving in across the road. The couple are Anita and Luca doing an Alfred Hitchcock moment.
Please leave your comments on this story below.
Are you an academic or researcher? Would you like to respond to the Biennale of Sydney and Transfield story? Contact the Arts + Culture editor.
This article was updated on March 9, 2014. A reference to “concentration camps” was changed to “detention camps”.
The Biennale, Transfield, and the value of boycott
Joanna Mendelssohn receives funding from the ARC through a Linkage Project on the History of Exhibitions of Australian Art and a LIEF grant for Design and Art of Australia Online.
In a clever marketing move, Facebook’s finance chief Sheryl Sandberg and stock photography supplier Getty Images recently released a series of photos which represented women in “more empowering ways”.
What Sandberg, the author of “Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead”, is trying to counter is the narrow range of images used to portray women, work and family – the businesswoman with briefcase, the mother with children and the one juggling both.
Society’s focus on women and work appears fixated on these kinds of stereotypes - and government policy settings are squarely aimed at them. Think paid maternity leave, tax rebates for child care, gender balance reporting requirements for corporations with 100 or more employees.
The corporate sector is required to report annually to the federal sex discrimination commissioner on diversity and gender balance (although there are moves to roll this back), but the reports are inconsistent, include data on issues that may be irrelevant for senior women (such as breastfeeding in the workplace) and often incomplete. They don’t seem to produce the desired outcome of rectifying the imbalance, especially at senior levels.
One neglected corner of the working women debate is that of female academics – the women who teach the new generation of leaders, produce valuable research and take part in what is commonly referred to as “thought leadership”.
Women have played a big role in academia (in expert opinion and research), in the arts and the not-for-profit sector, where significant contributions are too rarely recognised and rewarded.
Female academics have reached some dizzying heights. Elizabeth Blackburn won the 2009 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine; Condeleeza Rice was a political scientist at Stanford before and after her time as US Secretary of State.
In finance and economics, my field, only a handful of women are at very senior levels. Janet Yellen is head of the US Federal Reserve. Christine Lagarde (in fact, a former lawyer, not an academic) is managing director of the IMF.
Yet their input is essential. Not simply to contribute a “female” perspective on economic issues, but because women represent over half the world’s population and should be heard in every debate that impacts on their livelihood.
Women are plentiful at the lower levels of academia but they get stuck there and rarely advance to professor. It is a lonely field and a lot of women feel very isolated. In many jobs, there is paid leave to support women who take time off to care for sick children. In academia, when your time is effectively your own, the flexibility is often envied. But time off eats into research, reduces publication rates and limits promotion possibilities.
An academic job for a woman is different to an academic job for a man. Community-wide expectations that women will be represented on all boards or working parties have created a situation where women at very senior levels spend large parts of their time in meetings and other activities that take them away from their research and, by extension, their prospects of promotion.
And no matter how many programs there are to support women’s advancement, women still shoulder the largest part of the childcare and home responsibilities.
Women can also hinder themselves by their own attitudes. Senior women should not be waiting around for the right male mentor to come along, but they do need support to network and create their own opportunities.
If we want to have women at the most senior levels, taking part in decisions that impact on the nation’s and the world’s economy – or carrying out research that influences those decisions – they need funding for networking and mentoring programs. And they need support at the broadest possible level, not just within their own institutions.
Federal and state governments should take some responsibility for supporting women who want to help themselves to become senior opinion leaders and researchers. By funding formal mentoring programs, networks and fellowships, governments would be acknowledging the fact that universities are incubators of ideas that have far-reaching implications.
Women spend too much time chasing the money for these programs instead of doing the productive work of research, teaching and supervising PhD students.
The private sector is reluctant to contribute without a clear benefit – they need a return on investment. The not-for-profits can’t afford it. Universities are living in straitened times.
Formal mentoring programs for female academics in finance and economics currently exist in the US, UK, China and Canada, but receive little support in Australia.
At the Australian School of Business at UNSW, there are programs to support women but the benefits of senior academic women spread far wider than the campus.
Low numbers of women in the field have flow-on effects in business. Harvard Business School Dean Nitin Nohria recently apologised for his school’s treatment of female students and professors, promising to double the number of case studies in which women are portrayed as central leaders in business problems.
Sometimes perception is part of the problem. Women need to put themselves in the centre of the picture, or the business problem.
To do that they need to connect with other women, share success stories, get access to conferences, fellowships and other opportunities.
Renee Adams is the Commonwealth Bank Chair in Finance.
Feminists: we’re always complaining about something aren’t we? Sign my online petition, withdraw this, that and the other, retweet this, boycott that, and don’t even bring a Nestle product into the office never mind the home.
This week feminists have mainly been targeting Irish online betting organisation Paddy Power. Domestic violence survivor Jean Hatchet, supported by more established feminist campaigns such as Karen Ingala Smiths’s “Counting Dead Women” campaign, set up a petition via change.org and, within four days, obtained more than 125,000 signatures, 5,000 complaints to the British Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), and additional ones to the Advertising Standards Authority of Ireland.
Jean Hatchet was angered by Paddy Power giving odds for (and advertising on) the outcome of the Oscar Pistorius murder trial. The South African Paralympic medal winner is currently standing trial for the murder of his partner Reeva Steenkamp. He admits shooting her, but alleges he mistook her for an intruder. A Paddy Power advertisement featured his face on an Academy Award statue with the words “It’s Oscar Time. Money Back If He Walks. We will refund all losing bets on the Oscar Pistorius trial if he is found not guilty.”
Jean Hatchet petitioned the CEO of Paddy Power, Patrick Kennedy, stating:
Paddy Power, please remove your offensive betting on the outcome of the Oscar Pistorius trial and donate any profits so far to a women’s charity fighting violence against women.
A quick win was obtained. The ASA had never received this number of complaints before, and they took the unusual step of withdrawing the advert from all national advertising while they conducted their investigation. Soon after, the bet itself was withdrawn.
Why is this important, and why do feminists instigate campaigns like this one?
Feminists understand male violence against women to be part and parcel of gender inequality as a whole: violence against women is both a cause and a consequence of gender based inequalities that operate across the world. For this reason, ending violence against women was one of the seven key demands of the Women’s Liberation Movement conferences in the 1970s. This “cause and consequence” argument has been adopted by key international organisations, including the United Nations.
For most feminists, the label “feminist” goes beyond a job, a role, or a position. It is integral to the way they live their lives. It is an ethos that links the personal to the political, and vice versa. Virtual organising through online petitions, Twitter, and other social media has made feminist campaigning easier in many ways, taken it to a wider audience, cheaper, and made it 24-hour. (Though as I have written before, it has also added new difficulties).
Unfortunately, both the cause (gender-based inequality and other forms of inequality, including racism and classism) and the consequence (gender-based violence and abuse) are all around us, day in day out. So it figures that when we go to the shops and see the “boy toys” and “girl toys” stacked separately, we start a campaign, just like we do when we see women being murdered week in week out, but being treated as isolated incidents (Counting Dead Women). If we are on our way on a night out and sexually harassed on the tube (Everyday Sexism). When we see overtly victim blaming news reports in the media (Ending Victimisation & Blame). We do something about it. We start campaigns. We try to change things.
The Pistorius case has demonstrated this spectacularly. Feminists had previously turned to twitter to vocalise their concern about how the media were reporting the case. The hashtag #HerNameWasReevaSteenkamp was used in response to media reports that were referring to her only as “his girlfriend”, or “model”. The Sun and the Daily Star, for example, both showed a full-page image of Reeva Steenkamp in a bikini, but referred to her in their headline text only by her position of “lover”.
Whether our targets are relatively small things (an advert, a bet, not using a woman’s name, a toy category, a term in a news headline, a “flirtatious” cat call in the street) or the murder, rape or “honour” killing of women, they are linked. If we separate the causes and the consequences by compartmentalising the “serious” from the “everyday”, the “funny” from the “killjoy”, the links are broken and the invisibility of male violence against women is maintained. Online organising is allowing these links to be made more and more. On this International Women’s Day, feminist killjoys: come one, come all – we’re changing the world one campaign at a time.
Nicole Westmarland receives funding from the Economic and Social Research Council and Northern Rock Foundation.
Universities are facing a dilemma now that students have been discovered mining cryptocurrencies using campus facilities. Are these students displaying entrepreneurship or unacceptable behaviour?
Harvard has decided it’s the latter, permanently banning an unidentified person from using its computer research facilities after they were found using a supercomputer to mine dogecoin. It is not known if the punished miner was a student or member of staff.
Imperial College London now needs to choose a side in this argument after a student – who also remains anonymous – revealed that they had been using campus facilities to mine around £20-worth of the cryptocurrency.Many grey area
This campus-based Dogecoin generation follows several months of intense interest in Bitcoin mining. The spectacularly sudden rise and fall of bitcoin prices has shown that other cryptocurrencies also have the potential to bring further massive windfalls. With at least 200 cryptocurrencies that can currently be exchanged into bitcoin and then onto more familiar forms of everyday fiat money, its no wonder people are tempted to try to get rich quick.
In both cases, computing power and electricity were being used without the official knowledge or approval of the university so Harvard’s response is not necessarily that surprising. But other universities may well be wondering what their position should be on this issue in anticipation of finding one of their own students mining.
A quick search throws up no reference to bitcoin or cryptocurrency within the acceptable use policies published by IT departments. Although there are coverall policies about not using facilities for commercial purposes or for loading software without permission, miners could still technically continue with their activities without breaking a specific rule.Such learning
There are only two valid arguments that a suitably informed IT manager could fall back on if they decided to pursue a miner caught in the act.
Computers, and particularly their component chips, quickly fail when they operate at a high temperature for too long. Any enthusiastic miner with access to “free” computing power will want to run a computer at 100% of its capacity for as long as possible to extract the maximum number of coins. This will reduce the lifespan of any computer – potentially quite significantly.
The more invisible but equally important cost of mining is the value of the electricity consumed. All the online calculators for determining return on investment for mining cryptocurrency consider this important factor. If you’re spending hundreds of pounds to produce a handful of Dogecoins, it’s probably not worth the effort, but in a university environment, the cost of electricity is a more complicated equation.
While mining on a computer for long periods of time will consume electricity, this will be only marginally greater than a computer in a common access lab being used for Facebooking or watching cat videos on YouTube – two activities that appear to represent much of the activity that goes on in any university’s common-use computer labs. The key difference is that mining directly converts electricity into exchangeable value for the student. Using Facebook on a university computer only converts the university’s electricity into value for Facebook, by enabling the delivery of advertising to students. You don’t often see universities banning Facebook though.
And over in the business school, where students are encouraged to be entrepreneurial, understanding cryptocurrencies could bring some very real benefits. Cryptocurrency mining requires a student to think about the likelihood of successfully mining a particular coin and the best way of pooling resources to increase success. It also requires an appreciation of the costs associated with the activity, even if the resources are free to the student.
If they go on to trade their cryptocurrency, still more skills need to be developed. All of the coin exchanges mirror the functions and principles of a more traditional securities market. Trading cryptocurrency can give students the chance to experience a form of trading floor without the issues of access or cost associated with more mainstream exchanges.
Most importantly, actively encouraging an understanding of mining among students would help to avoid “futility mining”, mining for those coins that produce such a low return on investment that the setup, electricity and maintenance costs are never recovered. With awareness, students would avoid mining Bitcoin entirely. Those using a desktop computer with no specialised hardware such as a graphics cards designed for high-end gaming would learn to steer clear of mining cryptocurrencies that are based on the calculation function used by Bitcoin technology.
Without specialist technology mining these coins is simply not viable. My own experience mining coins based on the original Bitcoin technology is evidence of how difficult it is and how unimpressive the returns can be for small-scale mining.
After three weeks of mining with a specialist USB-based device, my portfolio of 134,000 coins represented in 13 different currencies are nominally worth 94.5 US cents at March 2014 prices. Of course, with time and some luck these coins could become much more valuable but nothing is certain in cryptocurrency.
This is why the two anonymous individuals from Harvard and Imperial College were mining dogecoin. Based on an alternative technology to bitcoin, dogecoin and other similar coins are easier to mine in a university computer lab. However, it will not be long before even this phase of the cryptocurrency gold rush will become the domain of large scale operators with custom equipment.
All of these interrelated complexities coupled with cutting edge concepts and technologies are exactly the types of knowledge and skills that universities seek to teach to their undergraduate and postgraduate students. Rather than pursuing the anonymous Imperial College student perhaps he or she should be invited to offer guest lectures to the computer science, business and management, IT and MBA students. That is, if they can be dragged away from Facebook long enough to listen.
Gordon Fletcher receives funding from the Technology Strategy Board. Gordon has a portfolio of cryptocurrencies numbering in excess of 100,000 coins but approximately valued -- on current prices -- at less than 2 USD.
Recent Winter Olympic sporting success raises critical questions about the limits of national campaigns‘ ability to translate gold medal “inspiration” into everyday participation for women and girls in sport and physical culture.
Minister for sports Helen Grant has also created controversy by suggesting women should be able to choose what sport they want to do, whether that was taking up hockey or the more feminised practice of cheerleading. The negative public reaction to this suggestion reflects the desire of many to move beyond the history of narrowly defined, feminised sport. It’s worth remembering that women were originally only able to compete in one socially approved sport during the Winter Olympics – figure skating – from 1924 to 1948.
Is Lizzy Yarnold enough of a role model? Andrew Milligan/PA
In her attempt to open up debate, Grant became caught in a complex web of ideas about gender identity, embodiment and individual choice. It does make perfect feminist sense to give women more of what they want in relation to formal and informal sport experiences. But what is at stake in these debates is the idea that this individual choice is somehow detached from the complex gendered norms that shape how women feel about their capacity, the resources available to them, and the level of inclusiveness in physical culture.
There is a widening gap between what an individual woman may want to do and the market forces that regulate how sport is organised, marketed and provided with little regard for gender equity. The gender gap in sport participation between women and men has grown since 2005 despite women’s sport organisations trying to promote more diverse views of what women want in sport by delivering successful programs and contributing to parliamentary inquiries.Roller reversals
Sport England data reveals there has been relatively little significant overall change in women’s weekly participation in sport in the past ten years. There have been some wins with more older and disabled women participating, but also losses with the participation rates of younger women falling. Clearly women need more than calls for “inspired” active choices.
A key issue is how sport is thought of, measured, funded, organised and promoted. Sport England includes Zumba in its classification of fitness activities and it is an example of a pursuit that has experienced rapid growth for women. Yet many pursuits that women enjoy are referred to as “non-organised”, “informal” or “unstructured”. This implies that they are not as valuable as the dominant organised sports, and are therefore less likely to receive funding.
Our different research projects all point towards the problematic concept of sport itself, and the need to reimagine what it means to include more gender inclusive activities. When women have created new sport cultures, such as roller derby, there remain tensions between a competitive ethos, social engagement, and sub-cultural identification. The global growth of roller derby is also an interesting example of how women’s sport culture emulates and parodies sexualised femininity by embracing rough, tough play, a performance of pain and pleasure infused with music and alternative fashion.Body politic
Across many of our research projects we consistently find women describing themselves as “not sporty”: gendered expectations value women’s bodies in terms of what they look like rather than what they can do. This was starkly realised by the very public airing of Rebecca Adlington’s body insecurities. The two-time Olympic gold medal winning swimmer admitted on a reality television programme that she had been the victim of cyber-bullying over her appearance, which culminated in speculation that the Olympian may have had her nose altered.
We have seen a range of parliamentary inquiries into the problem of body image and its effects on young women’s sense of agency, eating disorders and sports participation. These point toward the responsibilities of the health and fitness industry and women’s troublesome – read disordered – investment in body work as well as the wider influence of the media. Media literacy programmes have been developed in schools to counter some of the dominant images and narratives.
A medal is not enough to ward off body criticism. Tony Marshall/PA
The idea is that by creating media-literate individuals a reduction in body image dissatisfaction may follow. Serious attempts to evaluate this notion, however, are scarce. Research undertaken with 12-13 year old girls identified a gap between the critique of the media images that inform popular culture (for example the Nintendo Wii game “We Cheer” and glossy magazines) and the ways they feel about their own bodies.
The girls were able to talk about the “unrealistic” body images presented in the media in computer games, size zero celebrities, and airbrushing in advertising – but they simultaneously criticised, surveyed, monitored and were fixated on the “flawed” features of their own bodies. They worked out to counter overeating and manipulated their calorie intake to reflect levels of physical exertion.
Developing body confidence requires far more than teaching young women about the digital manipulation of images. There is no quick fix for how contradictory gender relationships play out through sport and everyday life. Responses need to be guided by women’s voices, and analyse how their experiences are shaped the many demands of contemporary society. In terms of sport policy, understanding how physical exertion is gendered is crucial to engaging the 12 million women who would like to do more “sport”.
Simone Fullagar has received funding from the Australian Research Council.
Jessica Francombe-Webb does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.
A petition on the human right to water, signed by 1.8m people across Europe, was presented last month in Brussels. The petition called on the European Commission to recognise the UN resolution that water is a human right and to ensure that water and sanitation assets are in public control, free from EU market rules.
The petition was remarkable for a number of reasons. It was the first European Citizens Initiative – a provision for direct democracy inserted in the recent revision of the EU treaty, which says that the European Commission has to listen and respond to petitions signed by over one million people in at least seven countries. In doing this, the issue was brought before the European Parliament.
The biggest support came in Germany, aided by popular TV comedian Erwin Pelzig. The show urged viewers to sign, while mocking EU rules that forbade the campaign’s web address to be broadcast by filming a car on which the address was displayed. The initiative had support from a wide range of organisations and was led by the European Federation of Public Service Unions, which represents public service workers across the continent.
Supporting the human right to water is surprisingly controversial for European governments. Though the UN made water a human right in 2010, most EU countries, along with with the USA, did not support this vote – Germany and Spain were notable exceptions.
More challenging for the EU is the element of the initiative declaring water is a common good and should not be subject to the competition rules of the internal market. This flies in the face of core EU market principles.
But some effect has already been seen. The commission has agreed to exclude water from its new directive on concessions, which is intended to make privatisation easier. It also increases the pressure on the EU to exclude water, and public services in general, from the new trade deal being planned with the USA and Canada. Plus, it strengthens demands for the EU to make more aid available for partnerships with European public sector water operators instead of supporting the failing model of public-private partnerships.Global pattern
The initiative is the latest step by campaigns against water privatisation which have had remarkable success across the globe. Major water multinationals such as French groups Suez and Veolia have retreated from much of their business in developing countries as a result of campaigns. They have also suffered the humiliation of losing their home city, Paris, to a new municipal service in 2010.
Paris has inspired other towns and cities in France and elsewhere in Europe, including Berlin and Budapest, to terminate private water contracts. The Reclaiming Public Water Network estimates that more than 85 cities have switched from private to public in the past decade. Globally, more than 90% of water services are in public hands.
This leaves the UK, or more precisely England, looking increasingly isolated – although there have been successful campaigns against water privatisation elsewhere in the UK. In Scotland, water services were spared the Thatcher privatisation and in Northern Ireland the campaign against water privatisation was the lead issue in the first assembly elections. It brought an improbable unity between Sinn Fein and the DUP, which led to the assembly’s first policy decision being to keep water public.Private profits in England
Private companies in England, however, are now celebrating their 25th year of lucrative exploitation of their natural monopolies, with most of them now owned by private equity consortia or Asian multinationals. The companies are extracting profits of around £2 billion a year above the cost of a public service funded through low-cost public debt. This means renationalisation would save the average household £83 per year, cutting bills by more than 20%.
This year should have seen the expiry of the original licences awarded in 1989. But a new clause requiring 25 years notice of termination has effectively extended their contracts indefinitely – the clause seems to be of no concern to the competition authorities of the UK or the EU.
Profits of private companies are partly based on relentless price rises. They are nearly double the overall rate of inflation since the 1980s, which have left 23.6% of households in water poverty (defined as water bills at over 3% of household income). Profits are also reinforced by tax avoidance schemes which channel payments through tax havens. Companies resist reinvesting their profits in updating their services – Thames Water insists that government or consumers should pay the lions’ share of the costs of modernising London’s sewerage system.
The companies have not found it difficult to convince the water industry regulator, OFWAT, of the need for generous price caps. They do so by overestimating the amounts they expect to spend on capital maintenance and then underspending these estimates by a significant amount. This reinforces their stream of profits, but not our water and sewerage networks. It may not have been a coincidence that the only serious flood in London this winter came not from the storms but from the fracturing of a mains water pipe in Kennington.
Despite all this, the Greens are the only UK party to support bringing water back into the public sector. This makes them the only party in line with public opinion on this issue. The most recent poll on the issue found more than 70% of people favour renationalisation of the water sector – almost exactly the same as the proportion which opposed privatisation 25 years ago.
David Hall has received funding for research from the European Commission FP5 and FP6 programmes, European Commission DG Devco, Rockefeller Brothers Foundation, University of Greenwich, Public Services International, European Public Services Union, Oxfam, World Development Movement, and others.
Under the mantra of civil rights, billionaires such as Eli Broad, Bill Gates and the Koch Brothers and the powerful corporate-funded lobby group the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) are using venture philanthropy and the political process to press for school reforms in the United States.
The ongoing Vergara law case in California in which nine students are suing the state over teacher tenure laws, is backed by Student Matters, a non-profit that has received donations from the Broad Foundation and the Walton Foundation, run by the Walton family that founded supermarket chain Wal-Mart.
The driver behind the case is a campaign to loosen labour rules in order to make it easier to fire “bad” teachers, under the argument that their presence discriminates against disadvantaged children. Opponents of the case argue that it is a blatant attempt to change the conversation from the realities of California’s divestment in education — the state is 46th in the nation in spending per student in 2010-11, and 50th in the number of students per teacher.
What these organisations and other others such as the the Koch brothers, Bradley Foundation, Heritage Foundation, Students First and Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education – all supposedly supporters of school reform – have as a common denominator is a vision of a profit-based market approach to education.
School vouchers are one of the primary education reform policy approaches pressed by the billionaires and the business lobby. Voucher programs, which provide public funding for students to attend private schools, have become more popular in the US in the past several decades.
Most existing school voucher programs in the US have been small-scale and targeted at low-income students, such as the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program, the Cleveland Scholarship and Tutoring Program, and the Washington DC program. But there has recently been a push to expand programs to include students from middle income families.
Notably, a small, but vocal cadre of civil rights advocates from US minority groups have allied with the billionaires and business lobby via groups such as the Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO), pushing for school vouchers and other neoliberal education reforms.
Have they been hoodwinked or led astray? It is understandable that minority groups are searching for alternatives to the status quo, as the US has a history of consistently and puposefully underserving students of colour. In fact, we still do. For example, one wealthy suburban district in Texas recently spent nearly $120m on a football stadium and performing arts centre, while poorer districts have struggled to afford adequately trained and certified teachers.
School reform advocates in the US are often a motley alliance between civil rights proponents whose primary focus is greater opportunity for historically underserved students of colour, and neo-liberals who desire to reduce the role of the state in public education and shift the education system towards a profit-making enterprise.Vouchers aren’t the answer
In the case of vouchers, the long-term impact on civil rights is already known. A decade of peer-reviewed research in Chile has demonstrated that a voucher market has increased inequality for students living in poverty and closed public schools.
A voucher approach escalates inequality because capital rules the day. Test scores become negotiable capital in addition to hard currency. Students without this capital are denied access to attractive schools because there are other individuals in the market that are more desirable to schools.
School choice becomes exactly that in a voucher system — schools choose. So, if you are a proponent of school “choice” and interested in civil rights and equity —- vouchers will not help you realise your goals. But if you are a neoliberal, you are in business.
How can we conceive choice and education reform differently? If you don’t like the choices that have been forced upon you for decades, then you are going to want access to alternatives. Are vouchers the choice parents should have? Turns out that vouchers show very little promise in analyses of peer-reviewed research literature for improving student success or equity at large.
However, there are gold standard reforms in the peer-reviewed research literature that show at much more impact on student success than vouchers. These include full-day pre-kindergarten education. Underserved communities should have access to empirically-supported choices rather than ideological ones. Parents in Milwaukee and elsewhere should also be able to choose schools that are attractive and well-resourced like the private and public schools across the tracks or river or highway. Why don’t US high-poverty communities have these choices?Pressure on public school funding
In Florida, Ohio, Arizona, Texas we have seen billions of dollars in fiscal cuts to schools while school vouchers, Teach For America, and charter schools are peddled by ALEC and the usual billionaire proponents as an alternative to the restoration of school funding for public schools.
In Texas and elsewhere, legislatures have used politics to force inadequate funding of US public schools while at the same time arguing that the schools are inadequate. The response from coalitions of citizens across the US has been a slew of lawsuits aimed at states over inadequate public funding to force politicians to respond.
Colin Powell once said, “If you break it you own it.” That’s the end game for these education “reformers” backed by billionaires and corporations. First, they seek to transfer the cost of education from the state budget to the family, household budget. Second, civil rights and equity are not their true priorities.
Instead these special interests are supporting vouchers and other neoliberal reforms contrary to the interests of students of colour. In doing so they will shift the US education system to maximise corporate profits, while limiting democratic control of public schools.
These same billionaire “reformers” have co-opted the equity discourse by offering a carrot to minority groups. This can sometimes be in the form of millions of dollars as in the case of the Black Alliance for Educational Options and Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina. But all this hides the inequity that profit-based approaches to education foment.
Julian Vasquez Heilig does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.
Connoisseurs of TV advertising may recall the commercial for Florette salad. Agricultural gangs conduct menacing stand-offs while chanting the names of their preferred leaf. “Lollo rosso!” one group taunt, “Rocket!” comes the belligerent reply.
This came to mind on reading all the coverage this week of the BBC’s plan to move BBC3 from being a broadcast channel to an online-only service, since much of this has centred on questions of channel identity and channel loyalty. Do audiences really still feel a particular TV channel can speak to their sense of identity in the contemporary media age?
Channel loyalty, brand loyalty really, is a much sought-after commodity. It is a struggle to establish and consolidate any one channel at a point when today’s television audiences, lured into remote-zapping fickleness by multichannel profusion, rarely feel securely attached to one channel as their primary televisual home. A lazy day at home might find me seeking my retro-macho fix with The Sweeney on ITV4, then snacking at the Food Network to see which diners in Pittsburgh serve the best burritos, before (should I admit this in public?) surveying the mesmerising vistas of quilted kitsch on Create & Craft.
BBC3, in the eyes of most commentators, is firmly anchored in one demographic. Youth, the young, young adults: this has been the core of the mantra. So the scheme to reposition the channel has led to cries of institutional discrimination against the teens and twenties. Digital Spy, a website with a similar constituency to BBC3, lamented that the BBC was now deeming youthful viewers to be disposable, while a Huffington Post blog about the matter was headlined “A War On The Young?”.
Him and Her.
These claims are not difficult to understand. BBC3’s founding pitch was that it sought to capture audiences in what the BBC regarded as the hard-to-reach 16-34 bracket. And its menu of comedies, reality shows, American animation, youth-angled documentaries, cult-genre dramas, and blink-and-you’ll-miss-it news micro-bulletins has delivered some real successes. Two of the best BBC sitcoms of the past decade, Gavin and Stacey and Him and Her, started out on BBC3 (and the latter stayed there for its entire lifespan), while Torchwood and Being Human provoked the kind of intense devotion that all cult dramas dream of instigating.
To its defenders, BBC3 was a zone where risks could be taken. To its detractors it leaned towards the gimmicky and the cheap. Such critics recoiled from the channel’s fondness for bouncy tabloid titles (Hotter Than My Daughter, Young, Dumb and Living Off Mum – both highly entertaining series, as it happens) and its increasing reliance on the makeover and hidden camera sub-sets of reality TV.
As ever, these taste skirmishes had ideological undercurrents, with shows that targeted young women from non-powerful social sectors earning particular critical scorn. Youth, after all, is not a category that stands isolated from gender, class and ethnic identity, and BBC3 refreshingly avoided conventional BBC norms here. They opted not to make any shows called things like My Pony Club Hell, or Venom, Vivaldi and Vicious Violin Lessons, after all.
Sun, Sex and Suspicious Parents.
The youth angle may emphasise certain targets, but not to the point of making the programmes exclusionary. The off-the-leash teens draining Corfu of its vodka supplies may have been the foregrounded consumers of Sun, Sex and Suspicious Parents, but such a text clearly held appeal for those very same parents. There have been plenty of BBC3 series that this particular fiftysomething could happily enjoy.
The online reconfiguration of the channel, due to occur in autumn 2015, is being presented by the BBC hierarchy in terms of “innovation” and “diversity”, words which admittedly make the blood run cold when parroted by executives schooled in vocabularies of evangelical managerialism. But these words do have some consonance with BBC3’s original remit.
The official pitch is that programmes with young audiences in mind make sense on media platforms which young audiences already use comfortably. But there are obviously multiple drawbacks here. One might be the fact the American animations Family Guy and American Dad are streamed regularly throughout the week. They are absolute cornerstones of not just the BBC3 schedule but also its perceived image, and are not available on the iPlayer, reducing likely overall audiences considerably.
Which side are you on?
Contrasts have been made with BBC4, not immune from cuts but not so centrally in the firing line, and consequently attacked by the BBC3 lobby as stuffy, bourgeois and middle-aged – television for the comfortably-off. There is some truth in that, and this cuts quite close to home, since if there was one TV channel which might prompt me to staunch identification, taking up arms like those salad-advert warriors, it would be BBC4.
So I do understand why the defenders of BBC3 feel the need to organise and protest – an online petition to save it in its current shape has, as of this morning, gathered 120,000 signatures. And to those of us who still retain a belief in public service broadcasting it is reassuring to see audience response of such a loyal, passionate kind. Perhaps we are not all such disconnected viewers, floating woozily down the seducing stream of multi-channel ultra-choice, after all.
Andy Medhurst does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.
The founding fathers of the Paralympics must be turning in their graves. The Sochi Paralympics is the latest in a long list of sporting events to be marred by politics. The 1980 Olympics in the then USSR are best remembered for boycotts by the United States and 64 other teams in protest against the invasion of Afghanistan; the Moscow Paralympics were moved to the Netherlands because, as a Soviet official put it, “we do not have anyone with impairments here”.
So when the new International Paralympic Committee President, Sir Philip Craven, stated this week – in reference to Russia’s de facto military take-over of the Crimea – that he would “leave global politics to the politicians”, this was simply a variant of the tired refrain: “Sport and politics do not mix.”
There are some parallels between the 1980 Olympics and Sochi. David Cameron has ordered a boycott of the Paralympics by British Ministers and Prince Edward, patron of the British Paralympic Association, is staying away.
Far from sport not mixing with politics, it would appear that sports mega-events in particular have become increasingly politicised in recent years, with governments of all political hues, based in a wide range of regime types (from advanced capitalist to dictatorship), falling over themselves to play host. The answer as to why this is the case is not as simple as one would imagine: motives range from “showcasing the nation” to “coming-out parties” to “domestic nation-building”.
Trends suggest that states with historical pasts and international images that need burnishing are flocking to host sports mega-events, especially after the spectacular success of Germany’s 2006 FIFA World Cup (in terms of image improvement). There is an inherent danger to this strategy: hosting is a double-edged sword. Intense media scrutiny is simply one of the by-products of hosting and the longed-for recognition may not be quite what was intended.
Since winning the bid to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup, Qatar has learnt this the hard way by having its treatment of construction and domestic workers examined closely. This could be a case of accidental democratisation: the decision to award Qatar the event was political, made by an undemocratic and unelected organisation. But it might lead to an improvement in conditions for workers in Qatar.
This kind of outcome does not appear to be the case in Russia. Shortly before the Sochi Games, Russia announced its controversial anti-gay laws; shortly after, it mobilised troops in response to the growing crises in the Ukraine, let off warning shots and provocatively tested a ballistic missile amid the tension.
The Sochi Winter Olympics and the 2018 FIFA World Cup are more than just showcasing events for Russia. Hosting the most expensive Olympics of all time (including summer events) is part of the growing confidence of a state which sees itself returning to its former glory after two decades of difficult economic and social transition.
Mega-sporting events can be used as a show of strength by the host to the international community; internally they can aid the process of binding the nation’s citizens around a common cause.
Russia appears to be testing the boundaries of global opinion and the Sochi Olympics and Paralympics has ensured everyone is paying attention. In the run up to the 2018 FIFA World Cup, the showcase event of the world’s most popular sport, it is likely that Russia, as a (re-)emerging state, will once again be at the forefront of debates on the changing face of global power.
Jonathan Grix does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.
North Korea’s ruler Kim Jong-un has now been in power for more than two years. He has largely stuck to the ideological principles that his father, Kim Jong-il, and grandfather, Kim Il-sung, had introduced and pursued, but there have also been some changes and surprises.
Although Kim bears a striking resemblance to his grandfather, Kim Il-sung (particularly his hairstyle and the straw hat he frequently wears) his public persona and style exude youth, vitality, energy – and occasionally, hint at more political openness. He surprised the world with his endorsement of Western cultural icons such as Mickey Mouse, Tigger and Winnie the Pooh. The latter were part of a July 2012 gala in honour of the country’s new ruler, broadcast on North Korean state TV.
At the end of last year, Kim Jong–un once again astonished the international community when he visted the country’s first ski resort in the rugged eastern mountains. The Masik Pass resort, which boosts several ski runs, two lifts, chalets, hotels, shops, and sleigh rides, is North Korea’s latest high-profile sports project. This is not the first time that North Korea’s Swiss-educated young ruler has been associated with expensive leisure facilities and new venues; in 2013 he visited the Munsu water park, with its gigantic slides and a horse-riding club. He was also seen and, of course photographed, in the modernised Rungna People’s Pleasure Ground, where he went for a roller coaster ride and to the cinema.
But the construction of a new ski resort is certainly the most ambitious and prestigious of all the country’s new and modernised facilities. It is intended to boost tourism and present the secluded country as civilised, cultured and advanced. In North Korea, however, building such a lavish ski resort despite scarce resources is not only about income generation and prestige. The country has a complex political agenda that accounts for the state’s interest in international sports.
Kumgang ski resort, the frontier of North Korean fun. EPANation-building
Article 55 of North Korea’s constitution acknowledges that it is the responsibility of the state to provide physically fit people for the economy and the armed forces. The country’s official and more detailed sports policy is largely based on a speech given by Kim Jong-il in 1986, in which he announced that sport should be used as a public relations tool in order to foster international recognition and improve the country’s reputation abroad.
Kim Jong-un appears to share his father’s views, no surprise given that North Korea has been successfully participating in international competitions for several decades. For the international community, it is one of the rare occasions to encounter North Korean citizens.
During the Cold War, both Korean states used international sports events as a public stage for their ideological battles. Each tried to assert themselves as the true representative of the Korean people. They either did not attend in protest of the other’s presence, or, when they faced each other, the competition was fierce. That changed considerably after the 1988 Seoul Summer Olympics, which marked the end of their competition for legitimacy.
During the following two decades, political relations between the two Korean states slowly improved and moved the divided Korean Peninsula in a new direction. Most memorable among the many policy initiatives were the inter-Korean sport exchanges and “unification events”. They became important diplomatic tools of engagement, fostered a sense of unity on the divided Korean peninsula, and kept the dream of reunification alive for both northern and southern publics.
International competitions were frequently used to express both countries’ desire for peace, reconciliation and reunification. On several occasions, their teams marched together at opening ceremonies of the Asian and Olympic Games, used the name “Korea” and assembled behind a white flag with the shape of the whole Korean peninsula embroidered in a deep blue. In 2005, officials from the two Koreas even agreed to send a single, united team to the 2008 Beijing Olympics. After lengthy negotiations, however, the two countries failed to convene a unified team, as they were unable to agree on the selection criteria for athletes.
Since then, inter-Korean relations have deteriorated again and international sports events are used to pursue distinctively different political agendas. Due to North Korea’s international isolation the public display of state symbols abroad, particularly in the context of international sports spectacles, is crucial to the country’s continuous striving for recognition and respect.
In 2012, North Korea dispatched 51 athletes to the Summer Olympics in London who won a total of six medals (four gold and two bronze). Considering the country’s size and its deep poverty, North Korea arguably did very well, finishing 20th in the overall medal table, ahead of far larger, more affluent and more developed states such as Spain, Brazil, and South Africa. However, North Korea’s athletic prowess was overshadowed by a diplomatic row after South Korea’s flag was mistakenly shown on a screen next to the names and pictures of the DPRK’s women’s football team. This incident was hugely embarrassing and a high profile breach of protocol since North and South Korea are still technically at war, having signed only an armistice at the end of the Korean War in 1953.
The Masik Pass ski resort could soon become another political bone of contention between the two Korean states, as the South Korean city of Pyeongchang, close to the border with the North, is due to host the 2018 Winter Olympics. Thirty years ago, North Korea demanded to host a number of Olympic competitions of the 1988 Seoul Games, but talks between the two countries over the issue ended without resolution in the late summer of 1987. Although Pyeongchang’s bidding documents for the 2018 Winter Olympics claimed that the event would be a significant milestone in the reconciliation and reunification process between North and South Korea, so far, Southern politicians have categorically rejected any suggestion that the new ski resort could be an Olympic venue in 2018.
For both Korean states, the world of international sports provides a fertile network for contact and dialogue which they have both frequently used to send diplomatic signals, engage with each other, and contribute to rapprochement on the divided Korean peninsula. Although cooperation in international sports cannot work miracles, the Koreas' persistent use of sport as a foreign policy tool shows that sport is anything but peripheral in their complex international relations.
Kim Jong-un’s interest in sports is therefore no surprise: he uses sports environments to shape and modernise his identity and image, boost tourism, foster an alternative discourse, gain international recognition, and overall generate a more positive reputation. Although North Korea categorically rejects and vehemently resists the ongoing globalisation process, the secluded state has appropriated the global sports stage in the name of the country’s national interests.
Udo Merkel does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.
A few months ago I attended a debate at the Barbican in London on the pros and cons of international aid and the debate veered into one of individual autonomy and the problems caused by state intervention. A colleague also recently told me that prisoners can only be encouraged (not told) to visit the gym or attend rehabilitation classes and that a smoking ban would be a violation of their rights.
At the same time, tobacco companies persist in calling for the rights of smokers and I’ve been drawn into many debates about the food industry, portion sizes and food labelling and the rights of consumers to choose what and how much they want to eat.
Suddenly libertarianism is everywhere and wherever I go, I hear arguments about autonomy, individual rights, freedom of choice and the problems of the nanny state. So why do people call upon this notion of freedom and is it all as libertarian as it initially seems?Sinister undertones
The call of “the nanny state” is often, and most simply, a reaction to change. Whether it is seat belt laws, changes to licensing hours, Sunday shopping or even variable speed limits, the immediate reaction is often outcry to government intervention and resistance to change.
Sometimes the call for libertarianism genuinely reflects an ideological viewpoint and the belief that intervention does harm. Much as I regularly donate to my favourite charities I found the arguments at the Barbican that ongoing support to developing countries can engender dependency and undermine local initiatives quite convincing. And perhaps prisoners have had enough of their freedoms removed without telling them how they can and can’t behave while in prison?
But, more worryingly, this call for freedom of choice often seems to have more sinister undertones, used by those with vested interests in people having the choice about how to behave and the hope (and expectation) that they will choose to behave in ways that are bad for them. The tobacco industry may dress their arguments up in libertarianism but in essence they want people to be free to kill themselves by smoking their cigarettes. Food manufacturers argue that the consumer is in charge and should be free to eat (or not eat) whatever is available, while knowing full well that most people will be unable to ignore their grab bags, duo bars or supersized portions.
And perhaps “getting” prisoners to therapy groups and “making” them take exercise or even “banning” smoking in public places inside prisons (as it is outside) is more about lack of staff, ease of management and keeping the peace than any grand ideological position.
With all this opposition how do changes ever happen that actually make a difference to everyone’s lives for the better? And how can we outmanoeuvre those industries who only have their own interests at heart?Follow the evidence
First of all we can sit out the storm. Time is a great healer and after a while, new things like seat belt laws and even Sunday shopping becomes the norm and life without them would seem strange. And when it really is a genuine ideological debate about harm we should gather evidence and leave it to the experts to work it out.
But what can we do when it is really just vested interests dressed up as libertarianism? How can we reclaim the debate and beat them at their own game? I think the answer is a matter of freedom, but it’s about whose freedom we are talking about.
Smoking was first linked to lung cancer in the 1950s but it took more than 50 years before governments started to introduce smoking bans. And the catalyst for this shift was passive smoking. Smokers may have had the right to smoke and even to die if they so chose but suddenly they no longer had the right to harm others. Passive smoking undermined the “freedom of the individual” argument. If smokers had rights then so did non-smokers and the ban could be introduced.
Similarly, seat belts in back seats were seen as an intrusion until campaigns showed how they protected not only the wearer but the person in the front from being hit from behind, and we are even in the process of banning smoking in cars to protect children and non-smoking passengers. Now there is also talk of banning drinking in pregnancy to protect the unborn baby, and an Appeal Court case set to hear whether a mother should pay compensation for a child born with foetal alcohol syndrome.‘Passive obesity’
And then there’s obesity and the food industry. People have the right to eat what they like and become obese if they want we are told by the food industry. But what if their weight starts to harm others? What if there were “passive obesity” and a cost to those around them? What about these others’ freedom to be healthy or their rights to choose?
The biggest group of others is the general public – those who pay taxes and others who need to use health services. Obesity costs the health service millions each year for the treatment of heart disease, cancer, diabetes and joint trauma which takes away from the resources available for other services. This is a cost to others.
Obesity is a form of social contagion; the weight of our friends and those around us is a powerful predictor of our own weight in the future. This is also a cost.
But more powerfully, obese parents have a cost to their children. Obese parents are more likely to have obese children who may well have health problems in childhood such as social anxiety, diabetes and asthma. These obese children are also more likely to have health problems as adults, including all of those that their obese parents might have. There is even some evidence that suggests that even in the womb, unborn babies of obese mothers can become malnourished and more prone to many illnesses later on in life.We can’t all be free
The libertarian argument is a powerful one in a modern world where the rights of the individual loom large. And the call of the nanny state and the dangers of government intervention rings true for many, particularly when history has so many examples of when this has been abused. But change is necessary sometimes. And sometimes the government could intervene more than it does. So if passive smoking has done it for smoking and “being killed by someone you know” has done it for seat belts then maybe it’s time for “passive obesity” to do it for obesity.
Freedom is a good idea in the abstract but we can’t all be free. And perhaps only by highlighting the impact of one person’s behaviour on another’s can we be free from many health problems – even if we are no longer free to do exactly as we would like.
Jane Ogden does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.